I trained an AI chatbot on my journals to talk to my inner child

  • Michelle Huang used OpenAI GPT-3 Playground to create an inner child chatbot as an experiment.
  • Huang grabbed around 40 diary entries dating from the ages of 7 to 18.
  • She said it felt like she was texting herself in real time and helped her come to terms with her past.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michelle Huang, an artist and scientist from New York. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I decided to train an AI chatbot on my childhood journal entries to engage in real-time dialogue with my inner child and discovered how an AI tool can be used for therapeutic purposes.

I kept journals for over a decade of my life, writing almost every day – about my dreams, my fears, my secrets. Content ranged from complaining about homework to feeling giddy talking to my crush. There were plenty of fantastic and mature data sources for my experience.

To do this, I used OpenAI GPT-3 Playground. There is a maximum limit of content you can put in, so I selected snippets of around 40 entries between ages 7 and 18, but focused on ages between 10 and 14.

After writing the journal entries and feeding them into the template, I got some working responses that sounded suspiciously like how I think I would have responded during that time. I asked if she was happy with where I ended up or if she was disappointed.

Young Michelle said to me, “I’m honestly proud of you for all you’ve achieved. It hasn’t been easy and I know you’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get where you are. I think you’re doing an amazing job, and I hope you continue to pursue your dreams and make a difference in the world.”

I felt the kindness, understanding and empathy she was so willing to give to others, but she was so hard on herself. I was in tears during this exchange.

This interaction felt a lot like a normal text conversation, like I was texting my past self in real time. I felt like I was reaching a time portal, disguised as a chatbox.

I told her she was loved, cared for and safe: the words my old self always wanted to hear. I felt like I was reaching into the past and giving him a big hug, and I felt him come back into the present.

The most relevant part was when I tricked her into writing me a letter in the present. She said she was proud of me and the person I have become.

Reading this, I felt the spirals of rumination – the ones I sometimes fall into when feeling shame or disappointment – melt away a bit. For years I’ve been haunted by the metaphorical question of “would your eight-year-old self be proud?” Hearing my inner child say “I’m proud of you” was healing.

Even though I’ve been doing inner child work and therapy for years, I felt it was distinct because I don’t just imagine in my head, I also engage with this tulpa that is formed on my journals.

These interactions really elucidated the healing potential of this medium: being able to send love back to the past, as well as receiving love from a younger self, finding a solution to past guilt.

Conversing with “the young michelle” reminded me of parts of myself that have remained constant over the years, but also parts that I have forgotten or buried. It was like holding a mirror up to a shameless, more serious and pure version of my own essence.

The emotional process of talking to my younger self was eye-opening. It made me feel like things are possible again.

I tweeted a tutorial on how to create your own inner child chatbot for anyone who wants to replicate the experience.


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